#54. Leading technology in the EV battery industry

Episode Summary

In this episode I speak with Dr. Michelle Tokarz, from The Coretec Group, about leading technology in the EV battery industry.

Episode Notes


Michelle’s background in material science and leading up to The Coretec Group

Brief overview of the EV battery landscape- what’s working, what’s not working

What Coretec Group does, description of it’s battery tech

Goals for timeline and battery performance

The future of EV batteries


Episode Transcription

Welcome everyone to another episode of Prompt Pod, an 
open-ended exploration into world changing technology and my quest to 
document conversations with bright minds in the space. I'm your host, Danny 
Kirk, and today I'm joined by Dr. Michelle Tokarz. Michelle is VP of Partnerships and Innovation, and works closely with Coretec’s global research institutions as they evaluate the company’s CHS technology to further the patenting of their intellectual property and customers as they integrate CHS into their proprietary processes. Michelle has a long history of working for startups. She spent seven years working in the pharmaceutical industry holding research chemistry and subsequent production roles for Merck and Eli Lilly. Michelle participated with and assisted several teams in NSF ICorp customer discovery sessions leading several teams through the initial, as well as the full-scale, national program, and has also participated in several NSF SBIR review boards. She earned her Ph.D. in Materials Science and a dual Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 
Michelle, welcome to the show.
Dr. Tokarz: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Danny: So today's discussion is gonna be about battery technology. Could you 
kind of give us a bit of an overview of A, your background and how you got 
into this space, and then b, generally speaking, what the battery landscape looks 
like today.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, so, um, my degree is material science. As you had, you 
know, discussed material science and engineering. actually did a spin out with 
my advisor based on my research. and the, uh, technology didn't end up going 
anywhere. but I was hooked on new technologies. I, it, I got such a passion for it
that I couldn't give it up.
So, I've been doing new technologies ever since then. what I will say is, when 
you look at exactly how [00:02:00] complicated batteries are, the, the material 
science is, is the perfect, Perfect science, if you will. batteries are, has, they're, 
they're, they're not homogeneous at all. They have an antic, cathode, they have 
crystalline, non crystalline, they have liquid, they have solid, uh, it, it's, um, it 
really speaks to material science well.


the general landscape right now, you know, a lot of people are, going after the 
flashy stuff, the solid state, batteries. We're working on lithium ion batteries, 
putting silicon into the materials. There's a 10 ish or so, companies that are 
working on silicon in the anodes. And, um, a lot of people are hoping to make 
those incremental improvements in the capacity.
and I would say that the, I r a, inflation reduction Act will also have a big effect 
on material supply. You know, most of the materials are come from China. 
Most of them are refined in China. So, um, we want, we definitely want more, 
[00:03:00] more happening here in the US as far as batteries are concerned.
Danny: Now kind of going back to, um, your time kind of in academia and at 
University of Michigan was, were there a lot of kind of interesting discoveries 
or new technology created in labs there that was then tried, uh, to be 
commercialized? Um, is that kind of pretty common in academia?
Dr. Tokarz: part of this is you, you gotta, you gotta keep in mind the timing. 
Okay? This was 20 years ago. I got my PhD, so you, you do the math and 
calculate how old I am. my, my. My degree was on bulk metallic glasses and 
characterization. So, you know, think metals, you know, like lithium is, is a soft 
metal, but think like nickel, niobium, things like that.
but it had a structure of a glass, like window glass. So it was, it was an 
amorphous kind of a thing. My advisor, like I said, we, we decided to spin out 
this company and to develop what we could from [00:04:00] it. mostly because 
we thought it was really cool science. That was, that's my joke. I said we, we 
believe we're scientists and you know, the business side of it.
Well, you know, it's just business. How hard could it be? Well, let's just, let's 
just say we found out how hard it could be. 'cause it, we, we couldn't make it go 
of it. but a lot of. You know, 20 years ago, a lot of PhDs, they write their thesis, 
they put it into a, a binder, you know, they put it into a book, they put it on the 
shelf, and then you never see anything from it ever again.
thankfully that's kind of changed over the years. So the last 20 years, you know, 
national Science Foundation, I've been real involved with, they work with a lot 
of different, professors, different universities, different graduate students to 
commercialize their science. and I think that's probably part of the reason there's
so many cool things going on with batteries right now.
what you gotta learn to do is teach a scientist to think more like a marketing 
kind of a person and to think about, okay, people who's gonna use my science


and why are they gonna use it? Once you're convinced of that, then you can go 
back and perfect the science.
Danny: [00:05:00] Now with that background in mind, what got you so 
interested in joining the Core tech group and kind of, uh, helping them work on 
kind of commercializing their technology? I.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. the Corte Group, our, our, um, our tagline is Engineering 
Silicon to Improve Lives. So we know silicon, and many different, Mean 
different areas, not just batteries, but you know, semiconductor LEDs, you 
name it. And, it was a small group, but it was, it's, it's a very mature group.
And I don't mean age, I mean like, you know, having the right experience and 
the right, approach to company, company work and, and the ability to work with
each other and, I thought this is, we when, you know, knowing what we're doing
with batteries and just how complicated it is and having the right team has been 
really exciting.
Danny: And you mentioned it a few minutes ago, but, um, could you talk again 
about what the kind of main types of batteries [00:06:00] are these days for, you
know, say cars or, you know, uh, vacuum, you know, robot, vacuum cleaners, 
things like that. What are the main types of batteries these
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, you know, it, it's easiest to talk about it in terms of vehicles 
'cause that's what most people know of when they think about electrification. 
the traditional, battery for like an internal combustion engine. car is a lead acid 
batter battery, does not have great range, doesn't have, you know, what you 
need for an electric vehicle.
And so what they moved next to next was a lithium ion battery. the, the 
important thing to remember about that is it's lithium ions are that are what's 
powering that battery. there more researchy are things like lithium sulfur, in 
solid state batteries. there's, uh, lithium air batteries.
There's, there's many different type of types of batteries. 90% of what you're 
gonna find in electric vehicles today are lithium ion batteries.
Danny: And you mentioned that solid state is kind of the flashy one. [00:07:00]
Why is that so flashy and sought after?
Dr. Tokarz: it is not a replace, it's not easily re, it won't easily replace what we 
have now. So right now we have lithium ion batteries and we could easily


change the anode, but using like some of our materials, for example, and that 
would be one component. You have to change solid state batteries. Generally 
there's three or four things that all have to change at the same time.
they also suffer from, needing to be, when they're actually in the car, they need 
to be under a great deal amount of pressure because they, they expand a whole 
lot, so they need to be under pressure. They're, they're flashy because solid state,
meaning the electrolyte is solid. and it's supposed to be a lot safer.
You know, you've heard about the thermal runway, fires that occur in lithium 
ion batteries. it's not that it's impossible with a solid state battery, but it's the 
chance for it to happen are much, much less.
Danny: And could you tell me kind of what [00:08:00] is currently working 
well with EV batteries and what's not working Well,
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Uh, you know, what's working well, I would say is, you do 
see increases in capacity every year and they're, they're small amounts, but you 
do see 'em. and I would suggest a lot of that is due to the silicon. silicon is a 
much greater, uh, capacity than graphite, which is what's used right now. So if 
you think about a hundred percent, graphite, you had more and more silicon 
over time, you increase the capacity.
And the capacity is just how much charge can the battery hold? Meaning how 
far can you drive on a single, on a fully charged battery, whether that be 300 
miles, 400 miles, whatever. I wouldn't say what's not working well, I would say 
some challenges that we have, and I do think they'll be overcome, is things like 
And so, you know, let's, how do we get the right charge that we can get, the 
range that we need? And what goes with that is,[00:09:00] the charging, 
charging station infrastructure. there've been a lot of stories about, people that, 
you know, even if you have a map of where these charging stations are, you 
know, will they ha will they be compatible with your car?
You know, will they, I I read something once they, they went to charging 
station and there was bees nests. In inside the charging station 'cause it's warm 
or something. I, you know, there, there's a lot, you know, and, and, and then as 
you're, as you're driving, like let's, let's say you go on a trip, you're driving, this 
woman said she found a charging station, but it was behind a locked gate.


You know, it was an, a special, facility meant for Tesla vehicles. if you have 
more charging stations, range becomes less and less of a big deal. If, if you, you
know, gas stations, if you've got a gas station in every corner, which we do, so 
we don't worry about it. Now, if you're going to electric, you gotta start thinking
about, you know, the same kind of thought processes if you were filling your, 
your gas tank.
Danny: Yeah. Do you, that's [00:10:00] actually a good point. Do you think 
that, range actually matters in EVs or will we just at some point get to a point 
where it is like gas stations and they're on every corner, so who cares if it's only 
a hundred miles? I.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, I think right now range does matter. mostly 'cause we don't 
have the infrastructure. You fix it. And, and this is hard too because, um, who's, 
you don't wanna buy an electric vehicle if you're not gonna be sure you can 
charge it everywhere. And you don't wanna build charging stations unless you 
know it's gonna be used all the time.
So it's this chicken and egg kind of a thing.
Danny: Certainly. So now, could you describe what Core Tech Group does 
these days and kind of dive into the battery technology and what you all are 
working on?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. So what we're making is a, um, Silicon anode material. So 
anode there, there's the two main parts of a lithium ion battery is the anode and 
the cathode anode is the negatively charged, um, electrode. The cathode is the 
positive. So we're working on the anode [00:11:00] side, and what we're doing 
is we're, um, making our own silicon nanoparticles that will be embedded 
within a carbon matrix.
And that's our annual material. And the reason for doing that is increasing the 
capacity. but it should also allow us to ha to see, faster charging times. And 
we're hoping also for longer cycle life. So cycle life is, you know, how many 
times can you charge and discharge your battery before it's no longer usable?
and what that means is, You know, a battery, every time you use your battery, 
you are degrading it, you know, quote unquote, although by small amounts. And
so what you do is you chart over time, how is my performance changing with 
each cycle? In other words, charge, discharge, and, most, uh, electric vehicle 
manufacturers [00:12:00] look at what is the number of cycles to 80% of what 
you started with, with your capacity.


So we're hoping, you know, we're hoping to see a thousand plus cycles with our 
material to, with, with that less than 80% degradation.
Danny: And what are the main differences between your kind of, uh, silicon 
anode, um, kind of technology and the standard, um, EV batteries these days?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Most EV batteries today are either a hundred percent 
graphite, so 0% silicon. Um, or they add small amounts, you know, four or 5%. 
Um, we're hoping be because of the way that we engineer our materials that we 
can get up to 10 to 15% silicon. Um, the other thing I would say too is, and this 
is a mouthful, but um, we deal with something called the solid electrolyte 
The SS e I. And I know a lot of people [00:13:00] kind of zone out and they say,
oh, that's, that's too, that's too big of a term. I can't get my head around that. our,
our c e o likes to use the analogy, if you, you're familiar with the ice cream 
cones. You know, you go to Dairy Queen and you get a vanilla ice cream cone 
and you dip it in that hard chocolate and it forms the hard, you know, something
all around it that the ice cream cone itself is our material.
The hard chocolate around it is the s e i, the solid electrolyte interface. Why 
does that matter? That matters because, our ano materials will expand and 
contract with every charge and discharge. So it's always expanding, contracting,
expanding, contracting, which is not a problem except that SS e I layer forms 
over the anode with every charge and every time you discharge, it breaks off.
So it breaks off in such a way that it does, it doesn't stay with the actual anode. 
It breaks off and floats around inside the battery causing all kinds of, just all 
kinds of, [00:14:00] um, resistance. And so every time you do that, the material 
breaks off. Material breaks off. You're using more and more lithium that's not 
available for charging.
So now 'cause, 'cause now it's this, it's this chocolate sauce, you know, or 
whatever floating around inside the battery. And so we're, so we're, we're 
making our own engineered ss e i that will contract and, and, um, and expand 
with the, with the, with the electrode.
Danny: And I am sure there's a lot of different ways to construct a battery and 
people working on different ones. Why did you all decide to take this approach 
versus others?


Dr. Tokarz: You know, this really is, is the genius of our C T o, uh, Ramez 
Algamal. He's got, you know, 20 plus years in the industry. Um, and so he is 
part, part of this is knowing what the IP looks like and who's got what kind of 
ip. And, um, we know chemistry, we know silicon, and this is where we can 
make a difference.
So this is what we [00:15:00] decided to go for.
Danny: Anything in particular is around kind of, timeline for these batteries 
going into full production and also battery performance, things that you're trying
to achieve with them.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. You know, battery performance, we're, we're, we're laser 
focused, you know, we're, we're looking at, um, eventually, you know, 
including more and more partners to help us scale. We're, we're hoping to have 
a prototype by the end of the year and have something that's comparable, you 
know, to what's out on the market now, if not a little bit better to show that we 
can, we can get the results that we want.
Danny: I think when we first first spoke, you also mentioned about, time to 
market and lower barrier to entry with your design versus, um, like a solely 
solid, solid state battery. Is that correct?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, yeah. You know, as I said, people are already putting silicon
into the anos, but they're in very small percentages. So if we can convince them 
to use [00:16:00] our material instead and increase it, It shouldn't change any 
other part of their process.
Danny: What other types of usage besides EVs, uh, can you see these batteries 
being, um, kind of most important to you?
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. you know, they can be used in consumer products, they can 
be used in drones, um, EV tolls, military applications. You know, Amus has 
done a real nice job with some of their military applications. Cline Nose done 
real well with their whoop fitness band. So it, there's anywhere you have a 
battery really is where you could use these.
Danny: Now as far as batteries and size goes, does it matter the size of the 
battery as far as the efficiency and kind of life expectancy goes, or is that pretty 
much linear, uh, compared to size?


Dr. Tokarz: Yeah. Well, the size comes into play when you think about weight.
So, you think about vehicles, you know, the more the, the, the heavier your 
battery [00:17:00] is, the more resistance you're gonna have, you're gonna have. 
and, and, and you think about military, for example. a lot of the solutions that 
Amus has come up with have been, you know, for the war fighter.
So battery powered, you know, things on the actual war, uh, the actual war 
fighter, The less they have to carry around, the more time they can spend out in 
the field doing what they have to do.
Danny: Now, I am not quite sure if you saw the news recently, but Toyota 
apparently claims to have a solid state battery technology that might have a 
range of around 800 miles. Um, what are your thoughts on that? And is that 
impressive or does everyone already have that technology? And it doesn't 
matter until somebody actually puts it into production.
Dr. Tokarz: Yeah, no, that I haven't, I did not see that, that, that is impressive. I
am, I'll be honest, I'm a little skeptical. doesn't say I, yeah. I mean, if that's what 
they, they can show and that's what they can show. I'll, I'll be impressed if, if I 
actually see it. Yeah.[00:18:00] 
Danny: Yeah, I, I think the main thing that, um, kind of made me think is that 
they are a publicly traded company, so they do have to, uh, you know, they can't
tell too, too big of lies, you know, and, uh, get away with it. But, uh, yeah, uh, 
very interesting technology nonetheless.
Dr. Tokarz: well, I mean, batteries in general are very complicated and, and 
I've seen many occasions where companies will. Um, be very judicious about 
the way that they present their results, you know? But a range of 800, that's 
pretty straightforward. Either you can do it or you can't. So, um, we'll see.
Danny: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I, I guess, uh, the easy move would be 
release it in 50 years, you know, have the technology, but oh, it's, uh, won't be 
ready for another 50, but, As far as, um, airplanes and batteries go, I mean, it 
seems like the obvious thing is, is that, um, you know, with fuel they get lighter 
as they run out of, um, the [00:19:00] energy.
But with batteries, they're the same weight. Do you have any knowledge about, 
um, batteries being used in airplanes or the future of that?
Dr. Tokarz: Not really. I, I know silicon anodes are, are, have done well for EV
tolls. But yeah, I, I, I couldn't speak more than that.


Danny: Another kind of 10 to 20 years out in the future. Do you have any kind 
of, um, thoughts on what, uh, EVs and EV batteries that kind of experience will 
look like?
Dr. Tokarz: if I had to guess. I mean, uh, you know, look, there's every, it 
seems like everywhere you turn, everyone is behind electrification, so my guess 
is when you buy a new vehicle, you know, an internal combustion engine's not 
gonna be an option for you. you're gonna have to do electric, and my guess is 
too, uh, you know, you get so much added capacity for every gram of silicon 
that you use.
It would be foolish not to use every bit of silicon. So I, my guess is every 
battery would have at least [00:20:00] some amount of silicon. My, my guess is 
it would be more ubiquitous.
Danny: In China, they have, um, like scooters and whatnot that you can take 
the batteries out of and swap 'em out and have them charge. So essentially 
you're not having to charge your vehicle. Do you have any views on that 
strategy versus kind of batteries that are fixed in the vehicle that you have to 
always charge?
Dr. Tokarz: you know, I don't, no, I don't. I I, I know I've, I've heard of, um, I 
believe it was Tesla. He had a, a dream of the plugging your, your battery into 
your house and charge your house, you know, from, from what, whatever was 
left over from the, the vehicle, you know, and this, this comes down to human 
What do we wanna do? And, you know, we wanna be swapping batteries back 
and forth. I, I don't know
Danny: Yeah, I certainly agree. our final question. What's the hardest? You've 
laughed recently.
Dr. Tokarz: the hardest, I've laughed. probably a, a Ted [00:21:00] Lasso 
episode. I, I am, I'm catching up on that.
Danny: Are you, are you on, uh, season one, two, or three.
Dr. Tokarz: I'm on three,
Danny: All right. How did,


Dr. Tokarz: I, but I'm, I'm living, I'm limiting myself to two episodes a night. 
That's it. 'cause I gotta get sleep.
Danny: Awesome. Yeah, that's an amazing show. Well, Michelle, thanks very 
much for coming on our show. If listeners are interested in learning more about 
what you're doing, where can I point them to online?
Dr. Tokarz: Um, I would go to our website www dot the core tech group, so t h
e c o r e t e c group, g r o u
Danny: excellent, Michelle, thanks again for coming on.
Dr. Tokarz: All right, thank you so much.
Danny: And thanks to you, my dear prompter for tuning in, and I hope you 
enjoyed this conversation as much as I have. If you enjoyed the show, please 
consider subscribing and leaving a good review. Take care and always be